Minister urged to help breweries by reforming restrictive licensing laws
Northern Ireland's new Communities Minister has been urged to adapt licensing laws so that breweries can open 'taprooms' on their premises all year around.
The UK-wide Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) claimed Northern Ireland's beer lovers are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the UK as licensing laws mean that brewers can only run taprooms a few times a year.
CAMRA said it was calling on the new minister, Sinn Fein MLA Deirdre Hargey, to consider reform.
Taprooms are facilities on brewery premises for serving the beer brewed on site, often with food.
But in Northern Ireland, breweries are limited in the extent to which they can serve beer on site although they can obtain temporary licences for occasional events.
CAMRA national director Ash Corbett-Collins said: "In Northern Ireland, CAMRA members regularly support occasional taproom events that are held by local brewers. However, restrictive licensing laws mean brewers can only run taprooms a handful of times per year.
"That is why we are calling on the new Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to commit to changing the law to allow all brewers to open full-time taprooms should they choose to do so.
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"This would allow Northern Ireland's beer scene to catch up with the rest of the UK and Ireland where local taprooms are going from strength to strength, helping to support the local economy and employ local people."
Belfast craft brewery Boundary Brewing has called for reform to the licensing process, and had urged its customers to respond to a Department for Communities consultation into potential reform of licensing laws late last year.
It has said that by comparison with Northern Ireland, breweries in Great Britain don't face the same restrictions.
It said that such breweries are able to grow their business and the availability of produce through taprooms, after-brewery tours, local markets and events.
As well as the growth of craft breweries like Boundary, a co-operative based in Belfast, Northern Ireland has also seen an explosion in the number of whiskey and gin distilleries from producers like Copeland, Jawbox and Shortcross.
Boundary said: "Northern Ireland's 43 breweries, eight cideries and 15 distilleries should be able to compete on a level playing field. Currently, comparable businesses in Great Britain can expand at a rate impossible to reach for those under Northern Ireland licensing restrictions.
"Consumers here can order beer online from Great Britain, but cannot buy local produce."
The Department for Communities did not respond to a request for comment.
However, the outcome of the earlier consultation into licensing is expected to be made available to the new minister.
The department had held a separate consultation into licensing earlier in the year over whether it should be able to designate an event as a "special event" and allow a variation in licensing laws for that event.
Speaking last year, the DfC Permanent Secretary said any reform to licensing "must be balanced with the need for regulation in the public interest".